NUMBER9DREAM BY DAVID MITCHELL
bought this book from a bookstore complex in beijing one day when ben was in class all day and i had nothing to do, wandered around the three shelves under the foreign books sign for a long time, a lot of the books were ‘classics’ like jane austen, arthur conan doyle, and there was a full shelf of twilight/hunger game type books. i feel like i probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if i were in a bookstore in london or singapore, but anyway
it’s about a nineteen year old japanese boy who comes to tokyo to look for his dad, a lot of weird absurd things happen when he runs into the yakuza, the head of one of the gangs makes him come along for a ‘day out’ and he says what do we have to do, and the gangster says we’re going bowling and the boy thinks well that seems innocuous enough and when they arrive at the bowling alley he realizes that instead of bowling pins there are people’s heads at the end of the lane, and these people are alive. i liked some parts of the book, i always like it when the object of desire/romantic interest is sassy, or like obviously likes [narrator] too but isn’t obvious about it i guess, like the development of the relationship doesn’t follow what seems to be a normal trajectory. in the end he finds his dad and says
'i feel sad that i found what i searched for, but no longer want what i found' which just seems like, the end-result of a lot of things you want, i guess
this book seemed to resemble, to me, many of the little anime that i have watched, like tekkonkinkreet and kemonozume in the way many wild and erratic things happen all the time, and instead of zooming in/focusing on and developing relationships between characters, the intimate details you’re immediately presented with a very busy picture and it hardly ever pauses, always one element twitching or changing even before you’ve realized it existed and to me it seems difficult to
i feel like this is best explained in pictures:
i am able to appreciate scenes or books like this
but i like things like this instead
the distance i mean, between the lens (be it in a film or in a book) and the subject of observation. i feel like i care about that more than the subject itself
this book was alright i was interested in it enough to finish it, and felt like i hadn’t read an action-driven/clear plot curve type book in a while. some parts seemed sad to me, in a significant way, like the parts about his twin sister, who died when he was really young, when she drowned in the ocean. how often they think about each other and what the other is thinking about / theory of mind type things. feel interested in twins, how they relate to each other in their understanding of themselves; one of my favourite video installations ever was candice breitz’s work on twin identity, which i saw at the singapore biennale in 2011
"all we are is our memories"
another interesting thing about this book is that, while reading it, i thought that it seemed different from other books about japanese societies/books set in japan, this seemed a lot more rushed, hurried along, and i realized later that that difference might be because david mitchell is british/isn’t japanese, and i guess the books i’ve read by japanese authors (four really—yasunari kawabata, murakami, natsuo kirino, ryu murakami) seem a lot quieter, even if there is something urgent happening that requires the narrator/characters to pay immediate attention to, their writing still has a different feel. i feel like maybe this difference might just be david mitchell’s individual style but it seems interesting that where you grew up in might have an effect on the way you frame a story, and that it would resemble in some way the writing of other people who grew up in the same place as you did, and that likewise this would differ from people who grew up in other places from you
finished it on the plane, 22nd september 2013, didn’t have time to write abt this until now :(
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING BY MILAN KUNDERA
liked reading this book, read it on the plane to beijing and finished it last friday, it was interesting and explores emotional attachment that is more complex than just being in love with a person; felt like the book introduced a lot of absolute binaries that i could understand but did not agree with, felt like it was deterministic (tereza behaves this way because of the way her mother treated her; book states things like ‘it is wrong to deny coincidences’ but ‘right to chide a man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life, for he thereby deprives his life out of a dimension of beauty, etc) and that a lot of the ‘evidence’ given to substantiate his claims/propositions were weak/merely possessed metaphorical relations; i feel like he doesn’t guard against finding meaning where there is none
typing out quotes:
1) “Now he was standing at the window trying to call that moment to account. What could it have been if not love declaring itself to him? But was it love? The feeling of wanting to die beside her was clearly exaggerated; he had seen her only once before in his life. Was it simply the hysteria of a man who, aware deep down of his inaptitude for love, felt the self-deluding need to simulate it? His unconscious was so cowardly that the best partner he could choose for his little comedy were this miserable provincial waitress with practically no chance at all to enter his life.
He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he really wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
There is no means of testing which decision is better because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?”
2) tomas came to this conclusion: making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
3) he paid the bill, left the restaurant, and started walking through the streets, his melancholy growing more and more beautiful. he had spent seven years of his life with tereza, and now he realized that those years were more attractive in retrospect than they were when he was living them.
his love for tereza was beautiful, but it was also tiring: he had constantly had to hide things from her, sham, dissemble, make amends, buck her up, calm her down, give her evidence of his feelings, play the defendant to her jealousy, her suffering, and her dreams, feel guilty, make excuses and apologies, now what was tiring had disappeared and only the beauty remained.
3) marching naked in formation with a group of naked women was for tereza the quintessential image of horror. when she lived at home, her mother forbade her to lock the bathroom door. what she meant by her injunction was: your body is just like all other bodies; you have no right to shame; you have no reason to hide something that exists in millions of identical copies. in her mother’s world all bodies were the same and marched behind one another in formation. since childhood, tereza had seen nudity as a sign of concentration camp uniformity, a sign of humiliation
5) But then she said to herself, Why take pictures of cactuses? She had no desire to go through in Zurich what she’d been through in Prague: battles over job and career, over every picture published. She had never been ambitious out of vanity. All she had ever wanted was to escape from her mother’s world. Yes, she saw it with absolute clarity: no matter how enthusiastic she was about taking pictures, she could just as easily have turned her enthusiasm to any other endeavor.
Photography was nothing but a way of getting at something higher and living beside Tomas.
She said, My husband is a doctor. He can support me. I don’t need to take pictures.
The woman photographer replied, I don’t see how you can give it up after the beautiful work you’ve done.
Yes, the pictures of the invasion were something else again. She had not done them for Tomas. She had done them out of passion. But not passion for photography. She had done them out of passionate hatred. The situation would never recur. And these photographs, which she had made out of passion, were the ones nobody wanted because they were out of date. Only cactuses had perennial appeal. And cactuses were of no interest to her.
She said, You’re too kind, really, but I’d rather stay at home. I don’t need a job.
The woman said, But will you be fulfilled sitting at home?
Tereza said, More fulfilled than by taking pictures of cactuses.
The woman said, Even if you take pictures of cactuses, you’re leading your life. If you live only for your husband, you have no life of your own.
All of a sudden Tereza felt annoyed: My husband is my life, not cactuses.
The woman photographer responded in kind: You mean you think of yourself as happy?
Tereza, still annoyed, said, Of course I’m happy!
The woman said, The only kind of woman who can say that is very … She stopped short.
Tereza finished it for her: … limited. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?
The woman regained control of herself and said, Not limited. Anachronistic.
You’re right, said Tereza wistfully. That’s just what my husband says about me
6) the bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina’s life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ (“You can’t step twice into the same river”) riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. The reason why Tomas and Sabina were touched by the sight of the bowler hat in a Zurich hotel and made love almost in tears was that its black presence was not merely a reminder of their love games but also a moment of Sabina’s father and of her grandfather, who lived in a century without airplanes and cars.
Now, perhaps, we are in a better position to understand the abyss separating Sabina and Franz: he listened eagerly to the story of her life and she was equally eager to hear the story of his, but although they had a clear understanding of the logical meaning of the words they exchanged, they failed to hear the semantic susurrus of the river flowing through them.
7) she sat transfixed at the edge of the bath, unable to take her eyes off the dying crow. in its solitude and desolation she saw a reflection of her own fate, and she repeated several times to herself, i have no one left in the world but tomas. did her adventure with the engineer teach her that casual sex has nothing to do with love? that it is light, weightless? was she calmer now?
not in the least.
she kept picturing the following scene: she had come out of the toilet and her body was standing in the anteroom naked and spurned. her soul was trembling, terrified, buried in the depths of her bowels. if at that moment the man in the inner room had addressed her soul, she would have burst out crying and fallen into his arms. she imagined what it would have been like if the woman standing in the anteroom had been one of tomas’s mistresses and if the man inside had been tomas. all he would have had to do was say one word, a single word, and the girl would have thrown her arms around him and wept.
tereza knew what happens during the moment love is born: the woman cannot resist the voice calling forth her terrified soul; the man cannot resist the woman whose soul thus responds to his voice. tomas had no defence against the lure of love, and tereza feared for him every minute of every hour.
what weapons did she have at her disposal? none but fidelity. and she offered him that at the very outset, the very first day, as if aware she had nothing more to give, their love was an oddly asymmetrical construction: it was supported in the absolute certainty of her fidelity like a gigantic edifice supported by a single column
8. Of each erotic experience his memory recorded only the steep and narrow path of sexual conquest: the first piece of verbal aggression, the first touch, the first obscenity he said to her and she to him，the minor perversions he could make her acquiesce in and the ones she held out against. All else he excluded（almost pedantically) from his memory. He even forgot where he had first seen one or another woman, if that event occurred before his sexual offensive began.
The young woman smiled dreamily as she went on about the storm，and he looked at her in amazement and something akin to shame：she had experienced something beautiful，and he had failed to experience it with her. The two ways in which their memories reacted to the evening storm sharply delimit love and nonlove.
By the word nonlove I do not wish to imply that he took a cynical attitude to the young woman，that，as present-day parlance has it，he looked upon her as a sex object；on the contrary，he was quite fond of her，valued her character and intelligence, and was willing to come to her aid if ever she needed him. He was not the one who behaved shamefully towards her, it was his memory; for it was his memory that, unbeknown to him, had excluded her from the sphere of love.
The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us，that makes our lives beautiful. From the time he met Tereza, no woman had the right to leave the slightest impression on that part of his brain.
Tereza occupied his poetic memory like a despot and exterminated all trace of other women. That was unfair, because the young woman he made love to on the rug during the storm was not a bit less worthy of poetry than Tereza. She shouted, Close your eyes！ Squeeze my hips！ Hold me tight!；she could not stand it that when Tomas made love he kept his eyes open, focused and observant，his body ever so slightly arched above her, never pressing against her skin. She did not want him to study her. She wanted to draw him into the magic stream that may be entered only with closed eyes. The reason she refused to get down on all fours was that in that position their bodies did not touch at all and he could observe her from a distance of several feet. She hated that distance. She wanted to merge with him. That is why, looking him straight in the eye，she insisted she had not had an orgasm even though the rug was fairly dripping with it. It’s not sensual pleasure I’m after, she would say it’s happiness. And pleasure without happiness is not pleasure. In other words, she was pounding on the gate of his poetic memory. But the gate was shut. There was no room for her in his poetic memory. There was room for her only on the rug.
His adventure with Tereza began at the exact point where his adventures with other women left off. It took place on the other side of the imperative that pushed him into conquest after conquest. He had no desire to uncover anything in Tereza. She had come to him uncovered. He had made love to her before he could grab for the imaginary scalpel he used to open the prostrate body of the world. Before he could start wondering what she would be like when they made love, he loved her.
Their love story did not begin until afterward; she fell ill and he was unable to send her home as he had the others. Kneeling by her as she lay sleeping in his bed, he realized that someone had sent her downstream in a bulrush basket. I have said before that metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.
THE INTERESTINGS BY MEG WOLITZER
picked this book up at kino a few weeks back, finished it on the second last week of september, haven’t had the time to write about it because i’ve been so busy with the summer internship, in beijing now, only just got my macbook to work
this book ‘revolves’ around the lives of six people, who met at a summer camp for the arts when they were fifteen/sixteen, and follows their lives through adulthood and marriage. the narrative is mostly told from the perspective of jules jacobson, who sees herself as an outsider and an unlikely addition to the other five, who have in their own ways a kind of definition to who they are and what they want that separates them from the rest of the people at the camp, as well as the people that jules grew up with
what i like about this book is how “realistic”/believable the characters are; i was walking somewhere the other day and thinking about this book again and also thinking about what i meant when i say it feels realistic to me: i feel like with other books, when something bad/plot-moving (?) (can’t think of a better word right now) happens, the lives of the characters almost seem to stop or continually revolve around that one thing that happened, almost deterministic in that sense; the author fixates on the consequences of that and all the other normal things that still occur fade into the background; i’ve recently felt that despite the weight of a [thing/situation] that has ended—which still comes back to mind as things in my life that were important enough for the memory of the pain/joy to return/that make me remember a particular period or year—so much more keeps happening, in ways that i could not have imagined. been thinking about the accumulation of pain as well, how even before you might have been done with dealing/coping with one thing other things are also happening, which you might not realize are events that will, reflexively, become periods you yearn for/become part of what you wish didn’t happen. i think that’s becoming more important to me, with regards to books, for it to feel more life-like than fiction/why i feel more drawn towards non-fiction lately, than fiction; although the situations might be fictional, the responses to these situations and ways of coping with it are understandably/arguably how people around me might react or feel.
i feel like the characters in the book understand this as well:
'so where were you?' ash asked.
'oh, ethan figman wanted to show me one of his films. and then we started talking, and it just got—it's hard to explain.'
ash said, ‘that sounds mysterious’.
'no, it was nothing,' said jules. 'i mean it was something, but it was strange.'
'i know what they're like,' ash said.
'what what are like?'
those moments of strangeness. life is full of them,’ said ash.
'what do you mean?'
'well,' said ash, and she got out of her own bed and came to sit beside jules. 'i've always sort of felt that you prepare yourself over the course of your whole life' for the big moments, you know? but when they happen, you sometimes feel totally unready for them, or even that they're not what you thought. and that's what makes them strange. the reality is really different from the fantasy.'
the book begins when jules meets the six of them at the camp: ethan, a guy who from the beginning seems to have the most potential/capacity to pull his interest in animation out of himself and to translate it into real-world success, i guess in a sense ‘commercializing’ his talent, but is also described as being sweaty, unattractive, earnest always in his fifteen-year-old love for jules despite repeated rejection; a pair of siblings from a wealthy family, ash who becomes jules’ best friend, goes to yale, is pretty/talented and is more or less the kind of person who you would assume everything goes right for, her older brother goodman who jules has a crush on; cathy and jonah.
the blurb says: ‘but the kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty—not to mention age fifty˘—and not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. for the group of friends who met and joined together because of a shared sense of being ‘interesting’, this is a startling and sometimes painful realization. slowly, one by one, they must consider adjusting their expectations.’
this seems to apply most to jules, who marries someone ‘out of the group’, a person who is regular in his moods/steady, who isn’t drawn to making art and without it, doesn’t feel a hole in his life. ash and ethan get married and ethan becomes wildly successful and rich with his animations taking off in the form of a popular tv series. for jules this is painful, she often compares her life to theirs, and wonders what it would have been like if she had stayed with ethan, instead of acting on the belief that they were incompatible. i felt like this was somewhat unexplained, but not in a way that made it seemed like a flaw of the author in exploring how ethan felt towards her, but i guess because “LIFE IS LIKE THAT”, you never really know how the other person feels once a thing has ended and unless the opportunity arises, it’s left hanging as an unanswered question
the first big thing that pushes the plot forward is that on new years’ eve, while jonah ash ethan and jules are at ash’s parents house, they get a call from the police to say that goodman was arrested, and cathy is accusing him of rape.
when jules goes to see cathy, because ash asked her to:
'it didn't happen the way he says,' cathy said now, jamming the straw into the ice of her tab like a little pickax. 'it happened the way i said. i wouldn't make it up.' she took a bite of her fingernail, and a string became separated, unpeeled.
'i believe you, of course. but i guess i don't think he would make it up either,' said jules.
cathy kiplinger looked across the table. cathy was mature, and jules was a child, the best friend of the beautiful and anguished girl, sent here to do her bidding. ‘why do you think that?’ cathy said, ‘he cheated in school, you know. he looked at another boy’s paper. just ask him. that’s why he had to switch schools. they made him leave.’
'i know all about it,' said jules.
cathy had a distinctly cartilaginous nose; though she wasn’t crying now, her eyes were red rimmed because she had been crying a great deal since New Year’s. ‘honest, jules,’ said cathy. ‘it’s like you don’t know anything. you’re just so goony about him, and about ash, and about good old betsy and gil. you think they all saved you from a boring life. but unlike you, i don’t despise my family. i actually love them.’
'i don't despise my family', jules said meekly, shocked to have been discovered, her voice miserably disappearing into her throat as she spoke.
goodman is released on bail but runs away and disappears from home just before the date of the court trial. ethan steps up to support ash emotionally and that’s when they become a thing (bad summary but i don’t feel like elaborating)
another reason i felt like i liked reading this book is because lately i’ve felt more aware of how, whatever i’m doing/experiencing/feeling is only one year in [the number of years i’ve been alive] and [the number of years i will be alive], which has two main implications i feel, one in giving ‘perspective’ or maybe some kind of hope, whether true or false, that whatever you feel now is just a mood that will pass (which is good because i think one of the worst things you can feel is ‘this is how it will be for always, feeling this bad) but also/secondly, that the choices you make now have long-term consequences/isn’t something limited to a particular scene or story, which is hard to remember ‘in the moment. been more aware of how, while university seems like the biggest thing right now these years are going to be three tiny years of my life in twenty years’ time. i felt this acutely when i was doing my internship and asked to read up the profiles of people in my department, and how those three years are just reduced to one sentence: ‘she did her Bachelors in XXX at XXX and her masters at XXX.’ that made me really sad. i feel like i maybe was never interested in, or able, to see through the fog of school, or be able to imagine myself as one day being past going to college, but i’ve been thinking about post-graduation a lot more lately and i wish i didn’t/wish i was going back for my second year with the same kind of ‘innocence’? naivety. wish i could do stupid dumb things without the weight of knowing that this will end soon
a final thing is that i feel more aware of the fact that the person you are in a relationship with could become more than just ‘the most important person to you’ but also your family. keep remembering that despite my mom and dad having slept in the same bed all of my life, that that was still based on an earlier choice to be together/make a life together. there’s a part of the book that talks about how jules’ and her friends lives begin to divide, after they all get married, how the individual families ‘close rank’ once they have children. already feel aware of this, how time i get to see or hang out with people i like is slowly dissipating, that my time now feels ‘reserved’ for my parents and sister, as well as ben
tired of writing/sleepy, in summary: what’s it like to grow up and acquire different responsibilities and priorities, what it’s like to keep a secret from the person you share a life with; what it’s like to be changed by success and what that does to the relationships around you; how life goes on changing and you can’t stop things from slipping away from you :(
but i really liked this book, felt it was one of the best, if not the best that i’ve read this year, am leaving it in beijing for ben to read when i leave, i would recommend it
finished: 23 august 2013
1984 BY GEORGE ORWELL
had this on my bookshelf for a while, decided to start reading it last week, don’t remember where i got it from though, possibly a charity shop
what’s stayed with me the longest since reading this book is the third part of the torture process in room 101 (where your worst fears are realized) & o’brien brings a cage of hungry rats and lowers it down/towards winston’s face — and the torture doesn’t stop until winston says not me, do it to julia, don’t do it to me, julia, not me
and that the torture would stop after winston admits that he values himself most/isn’t selfless and would put the interests/survival of himself above the person he loves most, that’s still something i’m thinking about — that breaking down of loyalty/relations to anyone other than yourself is what the Party wants to achieve — i feel like that’s frightening too, that at the point where you’re confronted and overwhelmed by the things you’re most afraid of you might forsake the person you care about most
‘We may be together for another six months—a year—there’s no knowing. At the end we’re certain to be apart. Do you realize how utterly alone we shall be? When once they get hold of us there will be nothing, literally nothing, that either of us can do for the other. If I confess, they’ll shoot you, and if I refuse to confess, they’ll shoot you just the same. Nothing that I can do or say, or stop myself from saying, will put off your death for as much as five minutes. Neither of us will even know whether the other is alive or dead. We shall be utterly without power of any kind. The one thing that matters is that we shouldn’t betray one another, although even that can’t make the slightest difference.’
‘If you mean confessing,’ she said, ‘we shall do that, right enough. Everybody always confesses. You can’t help it. They torture you.’
‘I don’t mean confessing. Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter: only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you—that would be the real betrayal.’
She thought it over. ‘They can’t do that,’ she said finally. ‘It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything—anything—but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’
‘No,’ he said a little more hopefully, ‘no; that’s quite true. They can’t get inside you. If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.’
'I betrayed you,' she said baldly.
'I betrayed you,' he said.
She gave him another quick look of dislike.
‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘they threaten you with something — something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, “Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to So-and-so.” And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.’
‘All you care about is yourself,’ he echoed.
‘And after that, you don’t feel the same towards the other person any longer.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘you don’t feel the same.’
also that the state might possess the absolute power to crush your sense of self / everything you thought you knew and believed in
‘they can’t get inside you,’ she had said. but they could get inside you. ‘what happens to you here is for ever’ o’brien had said. that was a true word. there were things, your own acts, from which you could not recover. something was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.
i dreamt about doublethink last night or a night ago i think
a lot of the parts of this book i liked best were the parts after winston met julia / descriptive mostly / going to type out the parts i underlined
“there were times when the fact of impending death seemed as palpable as the bed they lay on, and they would cling together with a sort of despairing sensuality, like a damned soul grasping at his last morsel of pleasure when the clock is within five minutes of striking. but there were also times when they had the illusion not only of safety but of permanence.”
"spinning out of a present that had no future seemed an unconquerable justice, just as one’s lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available"
"But she only questioned the teachings of the Party when they in some way touched upon her own life. Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her."
this quote was interesting because i’ve felt this way, or felt like i only was interested in things that seemed to have a personal relation to my life and had no interest otherwise / i feel like it’s an incongruence within my beliefs that i have yet to fully understand/analyze (although one can always claim that relevance is individually defined) / i don’t think though, it’s because the difference between what’s true and false does not seem important to me / but i feel like a lot of the time discussions revolve around things that are false & false, or that it makes no difference to my life, if one or the other is proven to be true
julia is interesting to me as a foil because she at first seems to be a possible co-conspirator for winston’s desire to instigate reform or revolution but turns out to have a shallow understanding of what it means to rebel; it also seems like (?) the only rules she is interested in breaking are those that regard sex — also this was funny
"if he persisted in talking of such subjects, she had a disconcerting habit of falling asleep"
i really liked when winston talked about the value of primitive emotions/what you have left to hold onto / how emotions are most important
and yet she had possessed a kind of nobility, a kind of purity, simply because the standards that she obeyed were private ones. Her feelings were her own, and could not be altered from outside
The terrible thing that the Party had done was to persuade you that mere impulses, mere feelings, were of no account, while at the same time robbing you of all power over the material world. When once you were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were ever heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history. And yet to the people of only two generations ago this would not have seemed all-important, because they were not attempting to alter history. They were governed by private loyalties which they did not question. What mattered were individual relationships, and a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself.
could probably spend a lot more time thinking about this but i have to get back to work
finished: 7th august 2013
TAIPEI BY TAO LIN
finished this some time in the last week of may after ben came down & we did long tube rides to different places, hadn’t found the time to write about it here till now. was telling ben that the week he first came to singapore last year/when we met for the first time i was re-reading richard yates/that was about an internet relationship too, it seems nice maybe that i began reading another book by tao lin just before ben & i hung out again. i got this uncorrected proof copy from michael inscoe when he came to london to hang out with some of us and i was sitting by the window sill when he said does anyone want this copy of taipei i’m done with it and want to pass it on and i said yes me please. ben is reading it now / says it has been rewarding so far
mostly this book is autobiographical in nature i think, from the things i’ve read about it prior to reading it, but i felt like the first few chapters/first half even read to me like fiction, in the sense that i felt ‘absorbed’ in the book, not thinking about who the people were, and wasn’t consciously thinking of the main character as tao. the way this was written feels different too, more emotionally involved i think, emotions wholly explored, while in comparison richard yates felt more neutered. remember reading the first thirty pages or so to rowan to while we were waiting for a housing agent to meet us outside a flat, the housing agent was an hour and a half late, so we sat on the steps thinking of ways to pass the time, and decided to read this aloud. i felt strongly about the scene where paul and michelle leave a party and cross a road and he writes
“they crossed tenth avenue in a diagonal, not an intersection, through headlights of a stopped taxi—two or three people were closing their umbrellas, entering the backseat, into the opposite sidewalk, and continued downtown, bodies bent against the wind.”
remember thinking about being in new york in december and january, for the first time; this scene to me felt rich, the things that paul thought which he didn’t said, the intimacy between the two people, it reminded me of in the mood for love. the part of the movie where it is raining and maggie cheung and tony leung are in the streets and it is raining and they are completely alone. i think the thing i’ve always liked about tao’s writing is how he seems to be able to pin down these scenes, places in a way that allows the memory to almost bloom before you
i really liked this part:
“as michelle became smaller, then out of view, paul distantly sensed the implication, from his previous thoughts, which he’d mostly forgotten, that the universe in its entirety was a message, to itself, to not feel bad˘—an ever-elaborating languageless rhetoric against feeling bad—and he was troubled by this, suspecting that his thoughts and intentions, at some point, in april or may or years ago, in college or as a child, had been wrong, but he had continued in that wrongness, and was now distanced from some correct beginning to a degree that the universe (and himself, a part of the universe was articulately against him.”
i feel like another reason why i enjoyed reading this book is because of the ‘conclusions’ or thoughts that feel like, even in their inconclusiveness, have a conclusive feel to them, like something the character learns, from each situation or place he goes to/leaves. reading another book right now, and i don’t really want to read it anymore, but i squashed a blueberry into the spine so it’s stained and i can’t sell it off anyway while reading that book, i put it down and thought “i’m not learning anything from this book, or the person writing it doesn’t seem to have written anything he has come to a conclusion from the things he has done, which is not like taipei”. that paragraph to me is something i identify with, not because i feel that way now/as often, but because i recognize parts of that thought process. remember thinking recently that how this feels like, sadness is not really the word for it, but bleakness maybe, or recognition of some truth, and it is that which makes you feel bad, that it feels like an unalterable truth, something you cannot change
anyway that scene continues, with this, which felt to me very beautiful/one of the strongest paragraphs in the book
in his tiredness and inattention these intuitions manifested in paul as an uncomplicated feeling of bleakness—that he was in the center of something bad, whose confines were expanding, as he remained in the same place. faintly he recognized in this a kind of humor, but mostly he was aware of the rain, continuous and everywhere as an incognizable information, as he crossed the magnified street, gleaming and blacker from wetness, to return to the party.
i was in the common room and a coursemate walked over and said what are you reading and i said ‘taipei, it’s felt good to read so far’——then read this part aloud to him
“paul stared at an area of torsos, dimly considering how, in his previous relationships, he had experienced dissatisfaction as an empirically backed enthusiasm, because it implied the possibility of a more satisfying relationship with someone he hadn’t met. with michelle, whom he felt closer to than his previous girlfriends—he’d told her this a few times, truthfully—dissatisfaction felt more like a personal failing, a direct indication of internal malfunctioning, which he should privately focus on correcting. but on some level, he vaguely knew, he was waiting for michelle, or some combination of michelle, and the world, to endure and overpower his negativity—to absorb the loose integer of him into its functioning, usable equation” pg. 5
i talked to friend about something like this recently, or maybe thought about it, the fact that with certain previous relationships, the incompleteness, boredom even, or how i felt tired of being around the person, felt a need to withdraw or be alone, felt like that was a quality inherent in the relationship, that that was what wasn’t “right”/not that it implied that there was something wrong with me, but with this relationship i am in now, it feels like, when things seem to not be as alright as usual, that i am doing something wrong, that extends beyond now, into the future
another thing that i said to max recently, when he asked me about this book, is that i feel like, at least can’t think of any other author, who is still alive/young enough to identify with, and whose books i have read when they were first released (richard yates & this one), like i can remember being eighteen and being given ry, what i was like then, how much has changed since then, three years ago / & whose work continues to have a sharpness to it, or writes about things that i am interested in, like memory, emotions, what you feel aware of in private moments/privately even around others. more so then the ‘objective’ descriptions, remember trying to read a book by someone called paul, which was on the bestsellers fiction section, when i was sixteen and bored in borders, in singapore, idk, he spent a long time trying to achieve an objective description of trees, a hat someone was wearing. feel uninterested in that. thinking about that now i feel like what i like best about taipei is paul’s constant awareness that what he is thinking, or describing, is his own perspective, feel like (almost?) in recognizing your own subjectivity, some might feel like that becomes a limitation/the impossibility of finding objective knowledge at all, but to me at least, that knowledge feels empowering, dismantles pre-established things that i learnt as a child & grew up believing to be true, and that (consistent recognition of subjectivity) feels like an explanation for the things i am interested in, with regards to books/movies, things i am interested in listening to, even with my course, liking the pathway related to cultures/what feels more introspective than the one that i am doing, societies, which relates to external structures that i care less about
the parts of the book where he writes about his family, in the beginning/during his first visit to taipei, and when he writes about his high school days feel especially interesting to me, because it feels like evidence that the way you are now can be in some parts explained by things you experienced as a younger person in high school/the way people treated you & learned behavior or responses, & because i can identify with the way he interacts with his mother, not in its entirety, but some parts, like this:
parts of the book that are transcribed mandarin conversations are interesting/funny too, when i imagine the actual words used in chinese like “okay” being “好” or “what” being “什么？” / Ben & i just talked about this bc he’s reading that part now & that’s interesting bc it was something i thought about too while reading taipei/ independent of his experience of reading it
his parents looked the same, he thought, but he viewed his mother, who had been diagnosed as “prediabetic”, a little differently, maybe as finally past middle age, though not yet elderly. her emails, the past eight months, had frequently mentioned, as sort of asides, or reminders, to hereslf mostly, that she was using less sugar in her daily coffee, but probably shouldn’t be using any—her most emphasized message to her family, the past two decades, in paul’s view, was the importance of health to a happy life—but that her doctor had said the amount she used was okay, and on days without her coffee, with sugar felt “empty, like something is missing,” she said in one email.
when, one afternoon, paul saw her putting sugar in her coffee, it seemed to them both like she’d been “caught” doing something wrong. she blushed and briefly focused self-consciously on stirring her coffee with a little spoon, then she looked at paul and her mouth reflexively opened a little in a childish, playful, almost mischievous display of guilt and shame and repentance that paul recognized from the rare times she’d done things she’d told him not to do, such as eat food that had fallen on the floor. after a grinning, amused, endeared paul obligatorily said something negative about sugar, his mother’s expression resolved to the controlled, smirking, wryly satisfied demeanor of an adult who is slightly more amused than embarrassed to have been caught idly succumbing to a meager comfort that they’ve openly disapproved of for themselves and others.
said to ben ‘i really like the sugar in coffee part with his mom”
and he said “yeah it’s really convincing”
and then he said’seems like he has written enough interesting autobiographical work, having habitually documented that breadth of realism, that when he starts writing, if he starts writing “proper” fiction it will be really amazing”
some parts of the book felt funny to me, like this
“walking alone, to his room, an hour later, he realized he was deriving comfort from the existence, in his life, of a ‘backup prospect’, a specific girl he liked who also liked him, but he couldn’t remember who exactly. when he realized he was thinking of anton, that he’d unconsciously de-gendered and abstracted anton, and successfully presented the resulting silhouette to himself as a “specific girl i like who also likes me”, he grinned uncontrollably for around thirty seconds, almost getting hit by a minivan when, rerouting to a darker street to better hide his grinning face, he jogged somewhat recklessly across an intersection”
i feel like another reason why this book felt very, rich, to me is because of the two (main) places it is set in, america & taipei, both places that i have been to recently/with ben both times, which matters because had this book been released a year ago, my memories of america would be the ones i had as a child, with my parents, instead of the ones i have now, being older & more aware of things. the parts of the book where he goes to taipei and visits his parents (the first time) and a second time with erin, felt like a retrieval of memories of the time spent there in ben, recently/these days have been thinking about how different cities are, the feel of them, and how i used to feel maybe more attracted to nature/trees but how lately i’ve felt like cities have an equally tangible/palpable effect. ben is doing a distracting thing with me right now he came over and took a nap/closed his eyes and leaned against me and i said i am remembering being in taipei with you. i miss taipei a lot and feel like i haven’t thought about it in a while or that those aren’t memories i have gone over in my head lots, unlike certain other memories/places i have been with him. ben is reading over my shoulder and he said ‘we should write a book like this’ and i remember reading about paul and erin going to the night market in taipei and wondering if ben and i had been to the same one, we went to two or three different ones when i was there in august last year, ate chou tofu, yam ice cream in pancakes, different fried things, walking around in the steam/heat of the food stalls, just the two of us. ben is saying “keep writing” while he reads over my shoulder/bites my legs/stomach
on the bus back home from peckham rye i was thinking about the blurb on the back that says “the result [of this book] is a suspenseful meditation on memory, love and living life on the fringe in America—or anywhere else in the world.” while reading taipei & being increasingly aware that this was written about things that did happen i would think “how does he remember everything, the conversations, or are they made up, and if so, to what degree are they fictional”, but would then think, “it feels like accuracy is of importance to paul/tao” and said aloud to ben “maybe he writes about the things that have happened immediately after they have happened”. this book, more than the others that i have read by him, felt like there was a point to it, the desire to remember, record, or document the present, which is something i identify with strongly.
“what paul wanted to know two days ago, or five hours ago, especially chronologically, he would sense an impasse, in the form of a toll, which hadn’t been there before, payable by an amount of effort (not unlike that required in problem solving or essay writing) he increasingly felt unmotivated to exert. there were times when his memory, like an external hard drive that had been taken from him and hidden inside an unwieldy series of cardboard boxes,or placed at the end of a long and dark and messy corridor, required much more effort than he felt motivated to exert simply to locate, after which, he knew, more effort would be required to gain access. after two to five hours with no memory, some days, he would begin to view concrete reality as his memory—a place to explore idly, without concern, somewhat pointlessly, always with the awareness that his actual existence was elsewhere, that he was, in a way, hiding there, instead of returning to where things actually happened, then were stored here, in his memory
having repeatedly learned from literature, poetry, philosophy, popular culture, his own experiences, most movies he’d seen, especially ones he liked, that it was desirable to “live in the present”, “not dwell on the past” etc., he mostly viewed these new obstacles to his memory as friedly, and sometimes, momentarily believing in their viability as a form of Zen, exciting or at least interesting. whenever he wanted to access his memory (usually to analyze calmly replay a troubling or pleasant social interaction) and sensed the impasse, which he almost always did, to some degree, or sensed his memory was currently missing, as was increasingly the case he would allow himself to stop wanting, with an ease, not unlike dropping a leaf or a stick while outdoors, he hadn’t felt before—and, partly because he’d quickly forget what he’d wanted, without a sensation of loss or worry, only an open acknowledgement of a different distribution of consciousness than if he’d focused on assembling and sustaining a memory—and passively continue with his ongoing sensory perception of concrete reality
felt envy sometimes while reading this, wanted to be motivated by desire to record to write something that long/concrete that will be a kind of evidence, even if subjective, that there are things that have happened that have affected me & have meant something to me, the way the events in this book feel
felt aware that i was less interested in paul’s relationships with the first few girls he mentioned, until the part where he talked about erin, because i knew (“knew”?) that that was megan boyle, feel bad talking about that maybe, because she is a real person idk. felt like up until that point i had been reading the book as “paul did this…” and not “tao did this” but from then on couldn’t not read “erin said…” as “megan said…”. felt bad almost, about that curiosity, thinking “this is how they met” and remembering certain things, like when the thought catalog article came out re tao’s account of getting married in vegas, watching a mumblecore video when i was nineteen maybe, finding it endearing, remember reading livetweets of the x-men movie i think. towards the end this felt more like reading a blog maybe instead of a book, intrusive almost in how private/intimate the things written about are, then wondering if there is anything “wrong”/”bad” about being unable to separate that curiosity from a detached reading of the book, doesn’t make it any less valid, then remembering almost transparent blue, how that was autobiographical too (if i remember correctly), except that i know close to nothing about his life, in comparison. think the fact that i am aware that their relationship is over now/this was written about events that happened maybe one or two years ago, made the last parts of this book a little sadder, the awareness that whatever you feel now, relationships, people you like being around, things like university, though it seems endless/like its end isn’t yet in sight, no matter how much you like it, or want it in that moment, will be over/go away from you, in some way or other
ben just said “what if you wrote this review based on the assumption on that everyone knows the bit of trivia about megan being erin and other people being other people but write that daniel is tao’s fictional stand-in for the dalai lama, although i guess he has already used pseudo-celebrities in his other book so it won’t be as funny”
this is the longest i’ve sat alone/used my macbook since ben got here, been writing this since 10pm it seems, and it’s 12:45am now, unsure how long this really is. but this book felt worth it, feel glad that i read it.
started: 16th may 2013
finished: 29th may 2013
WHAT IS AMAZING BY HEATHER CHRISTLE
finished reading this book today in soho square, finally been able to read after months of not reading & being busy with easter break, going back to singapore, final term essays and exams. feels really nice to be able to read again. read most of this on the tube during the long bank holiday weekend and in some parks when we were having a picnic and also after the psych paper. today i was reading this aloud and a dog came and sat next to me. crispin lent me this book
i think this book was written before ‘the trees the trees’ which i read last year. what i remember liking about heather christle’s poems is the way she plays with sentence structure or the relationship between subjects and objects within a sentence, transitive verbs & intransitive verbs, verbs that determine whether the object of the sentence is present, and what that means. i feel like her poems are almost deceptive in how simple they seem at first but then it always sidesteps its original direction & the images lay upon each other from within & repeat themselves without actually repeating itself. another thing is that i feel like there is a finality in her poems or at least that if there are questions asked or some kind of seeking there is an attempt to resolve the search and i appreciate that i think. i’m typing this with the book next to me looking for lines that i liked and they are all so very good
i’ll be me and you be goethe
i want it be winter and i want to change
the color of this room This room should be
a blue room and it should be freezing
but ventialted and I in my medium snowsuit
irresistable I know because everything I do
I do to get more beautiful so you will want
to love me in the cold and indoor morning
I had a group of friends
who were anvils
they could not be recycled
I had been lying down for ten years
I neede time to think
I told the anvils
after they played a joke on me
Not cruel but not kind either
I was sensitive
I was a girl
Ten years later I was a woman
but more like an anvil
who could think and could love
in one direction at a time
and so had to be carefully positioned
because of all the effort
the opening and focusing of eyes
And what if I love the wrong thing
You can’t take it back
It can’t be recycled
Not like paper
Not like this dark glass
Always I am in danger
People might step on me
I might get moved around and then what
How will I ever get home
A Very Remarkable Story
this is the first four lines from ‘a very remarkable story’, i was reading this again today and it’s something i feel like i want to remember maybe, i was thinking about the way she uses language, and how, by saying ‘how will i ever get home’ you presuppose you already have a home / a place you belong to / a place where [speaker] is not presently at, felt like this was very effective use of language i think
she does this again here with
Locked out of the cloud
my fright concentrates itself
within me like stars
A person is layers of instants
covered in dirty blue feathers.
I mean her consciousness is that
and in this warm darkness me too
and when people flock into each other
we achieve action and block out the sun.
What is it, anyway, to look?
It is to vanish some parts to a hum.
that her fright has an implicit causal relation with the cloud i think is very beautiful that image has been stuck in my mind all day, and then it concentrating itself, that is also very beautiful to me
"to look, is to vanish some parts to a hum", that is another line that stopped me when i read it, if only to reconsider what she meant, and what looking meant to me. i always like it when anyone redefines a word/term in their own way and expanding your understanding of the concept in doing so. i feel like her images all hum, with meaning and they are not afraid to mean something. and with each of her poems she is saying something new
haha it is 3am i feel like i could keep writing about her poems all night. in more detail maybe. i want to go back to doing literature. i wish i did lit for university. seems stupid that i’m doing politics and law. i care only minutely about those things in comparison to language and literature
Blank road and then trees like a corridor
begin. How does that happen. How funny
for anything to start. It is the edges
we use to make art, but that is tough:
we live in the middle and so little in fact
seems to end. This dull continuous world!
Though a horse I think gets distinguished:
it runs, it knocks a loose blossom down.
i feel like there is so much in this poem, it is so rich. i’ve always felt drawn to the image of trees lining an empty & quiet road which you can’t see the end of but i feel like i’ve never thought of it as a corridor, ie. closed off & open only in one direction. that was interesting to me. and then, the statements that are true, how does that happen / how funny for anything to start / which i feel like are things i have thought about lately, all the time are involved in things that are happening and are in the middle parts of it & don’t see the narrative portions of a beginning or an end until it is over or until we name it, as a beginning or an end. and she talks about that too, i think ‘the edges we use to make art’, the edges of a narrative, that beginning & end portions and how that is what we pull out of day-to-day images for a story if only in our heads. i really liked this one
I travel all day with a window before me
me a blushing bag
the world a pretty din
glass is the part I don’t see
while all day apparent the sky
to which I’m no closer
from which I’m disbarred
the stony sky blank and unmoved
the air I breathe in was once Caesar’s
to what do I owe this dim past
to the glass I’m a peasant
to the sky I am some kind of riddance
a driver behind a safe wheel
w/ lakes to the side
a putative blue
i really loved this poem as well, this & a poem jerrold yam sent me for galavant issue 2 about being on a train as well to me seemed to express in ways that i have never been able to, how i feel when i am on a train. i feel like i like being on trains more than i like buses or planes and things. i like being able to see where i am going but also feel like i am going at a speed fast enough to be going somewhere and not have the ‘vehicle’/thing i am traveling on stop every few minutes. i feel like i have a destination i guess, like i am leaving somewhere for somewhere else. anyway / ‘window before me’ / ‘glass is the part i don’t see’/ ‘while all day apparent the sky to which i’m no closer’ / feel like these are all really sharp observations, felt happy reading this poem, like i was on a train again
.. oh soldiers your children are glowing
at such a great distance
they seem more like thoughts
under the moon the knocking
i was sitting in the square today thinking about this, how to me this felt interesting, that by losing physicality (and seeming more like thoughts) a once-physical object (children) begin to glow // that i guess thoughts, or things i think about, maybe, fantasies, images of a thing, instead of a thing, those seem to sustain itself/live on longer than the thing itself
which i guess is something that she talks about in the next poem / page i just flipped to i remember reading this while lying on the futon when meggie & michael were around, and we were looking at takeout menus
The window is dirty I lean
via dirty shadows on the floor
Thank you fo the evidence
which I prefer and vastly
to the thing
the thing itself
and i know not what
I am the evidence of
though I am here
and leaning desperate
to prove it
For years I have been on duty
in this my body
and this its mind
and no one has told me
when relief might arrive
but I think it will come
all at once by the hundreds
it will be a real parade
it will surround me
with great noise
and with slowness
and coral and yellow and green
do you know what time is like
it is like you are a pile of wool
and they tug and spin from you
until you are yarn
is why we become upright
all the tugging
too when we slee[
we go loose
and i will tell you
another part darlings
and that is
your self is the sheep shorn apart
Directly at the Sun
the other one i love best from this book has the lines ‘the water is no longer working it won’t make me beautiful just wet and the same’ which is from the poem more swans and more women i feel like i know that line by heart now just because it began raining when i was reading it and also because i like water a lot
finally these lines from the title poem ‘what is amazing
"One’s goal in life sounds like
a match put out in water
You might not know you’ve done it
but for the sudden lack of light”
finished: 17 may 2013
DIRT BY DAVID VANN
finished reading this book in a cafe near el raval, while it was raining outside; i had previously read caribou island which is also a book by him and felt excited when i found this book in waterstone’s near ucl
the plot—a seemingly normal 22 year old boy lives with his mother and has not gone to college; his mother’s mother is losing her memory, and lives in a home where nurses take care of her. his mother’s older sister and her seventeen year old daughter are interested in getting the inheritance/money from the trust fund which galen (boy)’s mother has control of. their family has had a history of abuse; galen’s mother’s father used to hit both his wife and his daughters. galen’s grandmother and mother deal with this by not talking about it. galen has never had sex before. his seventeen year old cousin, jennifer, is aware of this, and continually ‘tempts’ him. galen is interested in ‘new age’ beliefs, or the belief that detachment from the world is the way out of pain. he starves himself, makes himself throw up, his thoughts consist mostly of his hatred of distractions/desire to achieve some kind of purity of ‘soul’ / mind. the four of them go to a cabin with his grandmother. his mother and aunt fight a lot, he has sex with his cousin and his mother sees him in the ‘throes’ of an orgasm. his aunt and mother fight over the money and his aunt manages to wrangle the checkbook out of his mother’s arms, and she writes herself a check for two hundred thousand dollars. galen is angry that his mother had so much money and didn’t let him go to college. she doesn’t say anything immediately, but after they send their mother back to the home, she sits galen down and says she wants to tell him something important. that he has to understand what she is doing. he says a lot of horrible things to her while she is trying to talk about her life, before he was born. she then says that she is going to report him for statutory rape, and he is going to prison. she runs to the kitchen and tries to grab the phone, galen panics and runs after her. she screams and runs into the shed in the garden and he says stop, don’t please i am your child. she says no you are going to prison, and then he locks the shed. what happens next is that she tries to escape and he starts shoveling dirt into the shed. she finds a shovel and tries to push the dirt out and he uses his hand to push it back in and she smashes his hand. he gets angry and decides to find nails and wooden planks to board up the shed. she starts crying and says please we can let this go you don’t have to go to prison. then she starts crying for water. and tells him to find the cheque book she hid inside a piano and that she’ll write blank cheques for him. he gives her the cheque book and she says let me out and he says fine i don’t need the money. she asks for water, he says no. he goes to lie down in the bed and wakes up finding her trying to start the tractor. she fails. he gets scared. she stops making noises, and two days later he tries to open the shed and then he does and he finds her motionless, body still warm, but dead. next to her is a cheque book, completely signed. on the last page she writes ‘please, i love you.’
felt sick after reading this book, which was the way i felt after reading caribou island. david vann’s prose is slick, it isn’t ‘pretty’ or ‘poetic’ but clean, ‘deft’. clarity, i think, that makes the train of thought understandable, even if the final action is unbelievable, or horrifying. he does the same thing in caribou island, leading you to believe that [one thing] is the central plot line, only for that to unfold and then be put aside, without it being a turning point at all
the building unease & final horror i felt at the end is the immediate effect of his writing, which i think is the way i felt when i look at gaudi’s cathedral this morning, and only after recognizing that emotion, am i able to ‘appreciate’ that i am feeling anything at all, and see past the emotions [book]/[cathedral’s aesthetic] makes me feel
i think part of the horror, or revulsion comes from the ability to identify with galen, the way he tries to distance himself from the things around him/the need to remove himself mentally, solipsistic almost, or how i have in the past, felt like i wanted to ‘take things too far’. in the last few chapters (where his mother is trapped in the shed), galen keeps thinking i wish i could take it back, or that it would just go away, that this never happened at all, but he knows it can’t, and so continues with it, ‘takes it all the way’, just because the consequences aren’t immediate, which mirrors the earlier act of sleeping with his cousin/not thinking about the consequences then
another thing that i was thinking about, while walking away from the cafe, was about galen’s relationship with his mother, and what she says to him. since being in barcelona / not seeing my mother for six months then seeing her again on this family trip, i haven’t been getting along with her, notice things about her that i previously didn’t, small holes in her shell, or notice that there is a shell that she moves beneath to begin with. or that, if she wasn’t my mother, i’m not sure i’d be interested in her. but then realize that.. the only reason why i feel that way is because i know her so well/have lived with her all my life. and she still puts up with all the shit i throw at her, and that i can’t even begin to imagine what her life was like before she had me. and that all you can want from a child is for him/her to love you the way you did for their entire lives. made me feel bad about not talking to my mother / wouldn’t ever want, if ever i did have children, my child to feel the way i feel about my mother towards me
when galen’s mom tells him that she is going to report him to the police, galen notices his mother, feeling [something], edgy, giddy almost, and then realizes that what she is feeling is excitement, excited that he was going to go to prison. while reading this i thought, that description is so accurate, and then tried to relate to that, when i have felt ‘excited’ that something is not going someone’s way, but then felt like that wasn’t it, the excitement wasn’t because someone you didn’t like is experiencing something bad in the future, but a situation more specific than that, and that that is the way i feel when i am playing a game, like chess, and i’ve made a move that will allow me to win, and there’s no way out for the other person, and you’ve had a part to play in the other person’s demise but that excitement isn’t about [the other person] but about yourself, some sense of achievement. idk felt good about david vann expressing that/identifying that sentiment so acutely
parts i dog-eared
'we're just going through the motions, galen said. what's that? his aunt said. our whole lives, galen said, just reenactments of a past that didn't really exist. the past existed, his mother said. you just weren't there. you think anything that isn't about you isn't real.
'pain itself an interesting meditation. on the surface, always frightening, and you wanted to run. very hard not to move, very difficult, at least at first, to do nothing. pain induced panic. but beneath the surface, the pain was a heavier thing, dull and uncomplicated. it could become a reliable focal point, a thing present and unshifting, better even than breath.'
this part, about forgetting that need to remove yourself
'galen tried to keep his focus on a carrot and the way it crunched in his teeth. he could feel it sever, all that solidity cracked through in an instant, a clue to how one might get the world to slip for a moment. removal from the world. distance. that was what he needed. it was awful how quickly he could forget that.
'the bare bulb and its harsh light made it seem that if you removed his grandmother, you'd have to cut her from the fabric of the world and there'd be a hole left. each of them felt that way to galen, as if all were two-dimensional, flattened, and lodged in place. jennifer with her arms still folded, looking down, unmoving, stationary. his mother with deeper lines than he had noticed before, as if her lips were separate from the rest of her face, something added. her eyes buried in sockets too large. the waves of her hair something sculpted and not attached. she looked fabricated, put together in pieces, invented. galen felt the unreality of her, felt it for the first time as something immediate and undeniable. she raised her glass again to her lips, but even that movement was jointed. the world put together with some kind of ratcheting action, each piece pulled into place under tension, all of it threatening to snap. galen wanted to leave. he wanted to get away from this table. this table felt extremely dangerous. he understood now that what held his family together was violence. but he was locked here, glued in place, unable to move. he could only watch, and the movement was his mother's glass, and his grandmother's glass and palm moving in slow circles, and the wavering of the light.'
i’m having figs for lunch, he said.
i have something to tell you.
well i can hear from up here.
she set the tray down on the wrought-iron table. galen could see the table’s leaf pattern, and it seemed lovely to him for the first. heavy and old, but lovely.
i’ve made a decision, she said.
i can’t wait to hear.
you were all my world once upon a time, she said. you really were. i wanted a baby. i don’t know why. and if i could go back now and make it never have happened, i certainly would. but for a time there, having a baby was a magical thing.
thanks, he said. for that part about wanting to go back.
shut up and listen. i’m giving you a gift right now. i’m letting you know the whole thing.
galen wanted to scream, but he felt a little afraid, too, so he only readjusted lower on the limb, found a more comfortable position in a tree with one of the main trunks. holding the two figs in one hand.
i saw the world opening. i’m not sure what i saw, exactly, or how i could have believed any of it, but maybe it was something like imagining how we’d play in the walnut orchard, playing tag through the trees. yellow mustard and wildflowers, and laughter. maybe something like that, from the best moments of my own childhood in the orchard.
she wasn’t looking at him. she was gazing off the orchard, and she had her teacup held in both hands, but just floating there, not drinking from it.
this is sounding like an after-school special, he said.
you want to make everything small. that’s what you’ve done. you’ve tried to make everything small. but i’m going to continue on anyway, because this is important to me. it’s important to me to let you know, just this once.
fine, he said.
there was some feeling about it, some feeling about you. it was like that christmas-morning feeling, something really as innocent and pure as that. what i imagined was joy. and i think what i wanted, really, was to remake my own childhood. i wanted to go back and fix everything and live it the way it should have been.
his mother still hadn’t looked at him. it was disconcerting.
there was supposed to be a man. and i thought i had found that man, but when i told him i was pregnant, i watched everything just fade and die. it was less than a minute. it really was that fast. everything he had felt for me just went away.
who was he?
he lost that chance. he doesn’t get to be named or have anything told about him except the one part that matters, that he let everything just die in less than a minute. that’s all you need to know about him.
that’s real helpful. the daddy-minute. it explains so much.
it explains everything. it explains the truth about men, the trust that they care only about themselves. and you’re not different. i thought maybe you’d be different. that’s what i hoped.
this is all such self-serving crap. you should fucking listen to yourself.
that’s right. straight to the fuck words. all violence. that’s who men are.
yeah. fuck your mother. a favourite insult. but i’m not letting you take this away from me. i’m here to tell you a story.
once upon a time.
that’s right. once upon a time. because it was a fairy tale. i believed you could be good.
galen hated this conversation so much.
i spent all my time with you. all my time, for years. i helped you learn each word. just think about that for a minute. i helped you learn every single word that you know.
galen tried to focus on his exhales, tried to calm.
i helped you learn every sound. how an s sounds, how a z sounds. how a p is different from a b.
well thanks, galen said. if that’s what you’re looking for, thanks for all the instruction.
shut up. you need to listen. today you only listen.
you’re going to listen today, because i’ve made a decision, and you need to know what this decision is. and i want you to really understand it. i want you to know why i made it.
well let’s just get to it then. what’s the decision?
no. i want you to understand first.
that’s right. look at it however you need to. but shut up and let me finish.
fine. do tell.
where was i? she put her teacup down, put her palms flat on the table, looking at her hands. okay. i watched how every expression developed. how you laughed and forgot to laugh, how you smiled and how that smile twisted up and changed, how your temper and crying became your anger, although i have to admit, i don’t understand your anger. your anger is something foreign, something i can’t see coming. your anger is part of how you’re no longer mine.
so you’re only claiming the good parts?
no, i’m just tracing things. and there’s a gap there. and it’s the gaps that make you someone i can’t be with anymore.
is that the decision?
no. it’s related. maybe it is the decision, actually. maybe that’s the fundamental thing, that i don’t want you in my life anymore, but it’s not the decision i need to tell you about now.
well about fucking time.
there’s more i need to explain. i haven’t even started really. because you’re going to be angry, and you’re going to feel betrayed, and you’re going to believe it’s unfair, and you’re going to think it’s about me and not about you. but i want you to understand and i need you to know that it really is about you.
this is driving me crazy. you really are crazy.
no i’m not. and you won’t call me crazy again.
crazyland, galen said. that’s where you’ve lived for a while now. look at you with your fucking afternoon tea and sandwiches. think for a second about who else plays make-believe all day. who is it who plays make-believe all day?
i’m not going to let you distract me.
think about it. children play make-believe all day, but who else does that? what adults do that, and where do they all live together? galen’s mother looked up at him finally. that’s been your gift to me, she said. to call me crazy.
the nut farm. you grew up on one kind of nut farm, but now you’re ready to live in a different kind of nut farm. galen liked this idea, but he stopped, because he didn’t really like to see his mother hurt. that was always the problem. she deserved to be treated worse, but he could never do it.
i’m going to live right here, she said. but you’re not.
is that the decision?
throwing me out on the street, like you were threatening to at the cabin? even though you’ve been taken care of your whole life?
let me continue, she said. i’m trying to tell you that i loved yo. i loved you your whole life, and i tried.
you were my mother. that’s what you were supposed to do.
you don’t understand anything.
no one made you have me.
she shook her head. i’m not going to let you do this to me.
yeah, because i’m doing such awful things to you right now. i’m the one making threats, saying i’ve made some kind of life-changing decision.
i tried even when you became like this, even when everything you did was ugly. i tried to still love you. i tried to forgive you. i tried to let you become whatever you needed to become, even if that meant you lived at home all your life.
like you have.
let me finish.
you don’t get to finish if everything you say is crazy. i on;y have to listen if what you say is reasonable. i don’t have to listen if it’s crazy talk.
i hate you. i hate you so much.
fine, he said. he dropped his two figs and climbed down out of the tree. that’s great. you’re a great mother. you’ve really improved on things from your past, just like you wanted to.
galen’s mother was crying without sound, in great hiccups of breath. she could hardly speak. i shouldn’t hate my own child, she said. i know that. but i hate you.
well you won’t have to see me anymore. i’m moving out to the room above the shed.
galen’s mother began to smile. it was the strangest thing. she was still crying, but she began to smile. she sucked in breath, and what she did was laugh. instead of crying, she was laughing at him.
what? he asked.
you don’t understand, she said. you have no idea.
well stupid me, then. you’ve been so clear.
she was smiling. you think you can just move out to the shed, and that’s going to be it.
yeah. i’m moving to the shed. you’re not going to see me, but you’re going to give me money for school and food and other things too. you’re going to stop fucking up my life.
the shed is not where you’re going, she said.
i’m moving my stuff right now. he began walking toward the house.
you’re going to prison.
galen stopped. he had this feeling of heat rising all through him. did you just say prison?
how am i going to prison?
OK THAT WAS REALLY LONG, WELL, THE POINT OF THAT REALLY IS, (besides how good at writing dialogue david vann is), DON’T REVEAL YOUR TRUMP CARD BEFORE YOU PLAY IT
started: 20th march 2013
finished: 5th april 2013
BONSAI BY ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA
quotes/parts of the book i liked:
In the story of Emilia and Julio, in any case, there are more omissions than lies, and fewer omissions than truths, truths of the kind that are called absolute and that tend to be uncomfortable. Over time, of which there was not much but enough, they confided their least public desires and aspirations to each other, their disproportionate feelings, their brief and exaggerated lives. Julio confided to Emilia matters that only Julio’s psychologist should have known about, and Emilia turned Julio into a kind of retroactive accomplice for each decision she had taken in the course of her life. That time, for example, when she decided that she hated her mother, at fourteen: Julio listened attentively and opined that yes, Emilia, at fourteen, had made a good decision, that there had been no other possible option, that he would have done the same, and without doubt, if back then, at fourteen, they had been together, he certainly would have supported her.
The relationship between Emilia and Julio was riddled with truths, with intimate revelations that rapidly established a complicity that they wanted to understand as definitive. This, then, is a light story that turns heavy. This is the story of two students who are enthusiasts of truth, of scattering sentences that seem true, of smoking eternal cigarettes, and of closing themselves into the intense complacency of those who think they are better, purer than others, than that immense and contemptible group known as the others.
They quickly learned to read the same things, to think similarly, and to conceal their differences. Very soon they formed a conceited intimacy. During that time, Julio and Emilia managed to merge into a single kind of mass. They were, in short, happy. There is no doubt about that.
”Tantalia” is the story of a couple that decides to buy a small plant and keep it as a symbol of the love that unites them. They realize too late that if the plant dies, the love that unites them will die with it. And as the love that unites them is immense and they are not willing to scacrifice it for any reason, they decide to lose the little plant in a multitude of identical little plants. Later comes the despair, the misfortune of knowing they will never be able to find it.
She and he, Macedonio’s characters, had and lost a little plant of love. Emilia and Julio – who are not exactly characters, though maybe it’s convenient to think of them as characters – have been reading before shagging for months, it is very pleasant, they think, and sometimes they think it at the same time: it is very pleasant, it is beautiful to read and talk about the reading just before tangling legs. It’s like doing exercise.
It isn’t always easy to find, in the texts, some impetus, however small, to shag, but in the end they manage to locate a paragraph or verse that, when whimsically stretched or perverted works for them, gets them hot. (They liked that expression, to get hot, that’s why I use it. They liked it almost enough to get hot from it.)
But this time it was different.
I don’t like Macedonio Fernandez anymore, Emilia said, shaping her sentences with inexplicable timidity, a she caressed Julio’s chin and mouth.
And Julio: Me neither. I enjoyed it, I liked him a lot, but not anymore. Not Macedonio.
They had read Macedonio’s story ina very low voice and talked on in a very low voice.
It’s absurd, like a dream.
Because it is a dream.
I don’t understand.
Nothing, just that it’s absurd.
started: 21 march 2013
finished: 21 march 2013
really loved this book
and glad i read it
VOYAGE IN THE DARK BY JEAN RHYS
bought this book from a second hand store in stratford-upon-avon, finished this today while working at the gallery. this is the second book i’ve read by jean rhys, the first was wide sargasso sea which i did for my A levels
anna is a nineteen year old who works as a stage girl in england and meets an older man & they have a brief tryst and then he leaves her and she feels desperately in love with him but is in a helpless position, that is how i would sum the book up
i felt like many of the themes were similar, the main character being constantly aware & self-conscious of her racial difference and feeling like an outsider / being rejected by her object of desire / motifs of fire & cold, it almost felt like the same voice (but of course) / reactions to somewhat similar situations seemed identical / except WSS was set in the jamaican islands & this was set in london / it was interesting to read about the tube, camden high street, flats in marylebone, tottenham court road etc which are places i walk around often now
here are some quotes i underlined because i felt like i could empathize even though i think i probably wouldn’t express [these emotions] this way
he said, why do you ask me the one thing you know perfectly well i won’t do?
i didn’t answer. i was thinking, ‘you don’t know anything about me. i don’t care any more.’ and i didn’t care anymore.
it was like letting go and falling back into water and seeing yourself grinning up through the water, your face like a mask, and seeing the bubbles coming up as if you were trying to speak from under the water and how do you know what it’s like ti try to speak from under water when you’re drowned?
'i imagined myself saying, vey calmly, 'the thing is that you don't understand. you think i want more than i do. ii only want to see you sometimes, but if i never see you again i'll die. i'm dying now really, and i'm too young to die.'
another warning not to treat people as an anchor / and that asymmetrical desire is maybe one of the things that can make you feel the worst / better not to want at all / and i’m glad i’m not in a situation like this / i hope i am never in a situation like this again
probably the part of the book i most strongly identified with was when she spends a night with the man for the last time and then leaves
'i got out into the street. a man passed. i thought he looked at me funnily and i wanted to run, but i stopped myself. i walked straight ahead. i thought, 'anywhere will do as long as it's somewhere that nobody knows.'
finished: 21st february 2013
YOU PRIVATE PERSON BY RICHARD CHIEM
i ordered this book in december before i went to america. i remember being in ben’s room when he handed me an envelope and i had forgotten what i had ordered and then felt pleased when i opened the envelope and saw this. i began reading it last week
i didn’t know what to expect or what this book was about / had not previously read anything by richard chiem / i like having no preconceptions of a [book] / author’s work / i also feel like, lately maybe, i ‘gravitate’ towards short stories over novels
remember feeling immediately pleased at what i was reading and took a picture of the first page (animals with expressions) & sent it to ben because i wanted him to know what it was i was reading
these stories to me feel timeless, by ‘timeless’ i mean the denotation of the word, literally i guess, not referring to any particular time. i was talking to someone the other day about how the ability for a [reader (or just me maybe)] to relate to a piece of writing depends on the ability of the writer to navigate between two extremes, that of ambiguity & details. i feel like these stories do that: give enough of the specific details required for it to have an identity of its own, while also somehow still retaining a sense of vagueness, time/place-less, which allows you to imagine that what you are reading is happening to you / allows you to identify & empathize with the characters. this quality seems rare to me but this book has it
another thing i felt was a reason as to why i liked this book was the way the situations / imagery seemed quiet & intimate. i like quiet books, i don’t think the ‘quietness’ of a book depends solely on the things that go on in the peripheral environment, maybe more the way the narrator responds to these things / how observant they are of the things happening around them. after reading the first story (which had a sequence of smaller chapters within it) i felt like the title was good, or described the nature of the stories well, private people, who keep what they are thinking/feeling to themselves. i value that a lot i think
also thought about something i said to another person the other day, when he tried to explain/seemed to want to justify the reasons for his behaviour towards someone else, i said ‘no one but you and her will know what happened between the two of you.’ felt like a lot of these stories were about these quiet/private/intimate moments. like lying down together skin only, or when someone touches your hair, how you want a specific person to touch your hair, or the way the room seems to expand when the person you like most enters / these seem like the things i remember most about relationships, how completely present in that past moment i begin to feel when i try to recall it, and how what i remember are the times spent when it was just me and that one other person / then i thought about a thing that tao lin wrote about almost transparent blue, which is something i think about often now / “I think that scene is ‘touching’ to me because—by seeming to have no purpose except to non-rhetorically relate what seems, to me, like a memory—it promotes, or is evidence, to me, that a single specific experience that doesn’t cost anything, and has no effect on anyone that isn’t involved, and that doesn’t have to be known by anyone else can be ‘worth more’ to a person than years of comfort or love or accomplishment or millions of dollars or the respect and admiration of thousands. That a single person, or two people, using only themselves and each other, can easily create an intense, unrecorded, unshared memory that is more emotional, memorable, and affecting than winning the lottery or getting a masters degree or even ‘falling in love,’ maybe, seems ‘beautiful’ and exciting and affecting to me.’ / this is what i want most from books i think, and also what i feel like i try to recreate in the things i write or photograph
i guess i like how ‘real’ (or true to what ‘reality’ seems to be to me) the emotions in the book seem, not only the emotions that seem commonly written about, like desire/long-distance yearning but also things i have been thinking about, like being aware that the person you’re in a relationship with is a separate person from you & you can’t ever assume his or her thoughts / hence never can assume that how he/she feels towards you will continue for always in spite of how strong it can be at a certain point of time / reminded again that the existence of a feeling can’t be taken for granted / and then, how that makes you feel
the first page i folded was this:
his text message will ask a poem:
(1/2) Are you working? There is a lot you can have by
wanting. In the light I made a bargain. Envisioning
a house where I never lived, you could not
convince me we’d spent but
(2/2) one life together.
HER: Are you awake? Describe the house to me.
mary is a girl that the character richard seems to be in a relationship with. somewhere else the narrator/richard says ‘you are the mary in all of these stories’ and i thought, ‘there is so much love in this book’, like when thom asks ‘so what does mary do’ and richard says ‘she’s an inventor’ and thom says ‘oh yeah? what did she invent?’ and richard says ‘everything, i think she invented everything. but no one gives her credit’
this book made me miss ben a lot / you are the you to me in all of the stories/poems i read/write
'long-distance love-making is a bitch'. long distance relationships are like believing in God and do you want to believe in God again?
'i thought, Who the fuck was this girl? where did she come from? she was so intimate and forward and surprising, it made me imagine a good romantic life. i started to see myself in the future surviving harder scenarios. i was getting beaten down by other men. i was in a small car accident. i could see myself near death and still wanting to be alive. there were scenes in my imagination where the only act that happens is her and i surviving and holding each other overlooking the neighbourhood.
she was so intimate to me so quickly, she felt like a time traveler or something. like she was my protector. sometimes we would ditch class together you know? and find a place to hide and mess around.’
i liked the longer stories most, like ‘sociopaths’ & ‘animals’. when i read these parts i thought ‘i would want to read a longer book by this person’.
going to re-read this book again, then lending it to mat & stacey because a couple of us who live in london were hanging out one night and i said what if we started a monthly book club and so now we are doing it. this month/first meeting we will be doing you private person, so i am excited about that, especially since i really liked this book
started: 9th february 2013
finished: 12th february 2013